July 2020 Leaders and Movements: Week Two
The United States of America is an ever-evolving work-in-progress. Social unrest and activism always come before major victories for justice and equality. While we acknowledge the founding of this nation on July 4, we’re spending the entire month of July highlighting the leaders and movements who pushed this country towards living up to the ideals it was founded upon – “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Ida B. Wells was an investigative journalist, educator, suffragist, an early leader in the civil rights movement, and a founder of the NAACP. Wells was born into slavery and orphaned at the age of 16, working as a school teacher until she became co-owner and writer of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspapers. Wells was outspoken regarding her beliefs as a Black female activist and faced regular public disapproval, sometimes including from other leaders within the civil rights movement and the women’s suffrage movement.
In 2020, Wells was posthumously honored with a Pulitzer Prize “[f]or her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.” Watch this TED-Ed video about the legacy of Ida B Wells’ journalism career:
Mother Jones was an Irish-born American schoolteacher and dressmaker who became a prominent union organizer, community organizer, and activist. She helped coordinate major strikes and co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World. In 1902, she was called “the most dangerous woman in America” for her success in organizing mine workers and their families against the mine owners. In 1903, to protest the lax enforcement of the child labor laws in the Pennsylvania mines and silk mills, she organized a children’s march from Philadelphia to the home of President Theodore Roosevelt in New York. Jones uttered words still invoked by union supporters more than a century later: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” Explore the Mother Jones Museum.
Ida Tarbell was one of the leading muckrakers of the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and pioneered investigative journalism. Tarbell is best known for her 1904 book, The History of the Standard Oil Company, which was published as a series of articles from 1902 to 1904. It has been called a “masterpiece of investigative journalism”, and “the single most influential book on business ever published in the United States.” by historians. The work would contribute to the dissolution of the Standard Oil monopoly and helped usher in the Hepburn Act of 1906, the Mann-Elkins Act, the creation of the Federal Trade Commission and the Clayton Antitrust Act.
While her accomplishments were many, Tarbell also challenged and questioned the merits of women’s suffrage. Tarbell did say that the movement sparked in her a desire to attend college and receive an education. Tarbell switched course and embraced suffrage after American women won the right to vote in 1920.
Read this Smithsonian story about Tarbell’s transformational fight to hold the Standard Oil Company accountable
Philip Randolph was a labor union organizer and civil rights leader from Crescent City, Florida who led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly AfricanAmerican labor union in the UnitedStates. His continuous organizing and collaboration with fellow labor leaders resulted in Executive Order 8802 in 1941, banning discrimination in the defense industries during World War II and Executive Order 9981 in 1948, ending segregation in the armed services.
Randolph inspired the “Freedom Budget”, sometimes called the “Randolph Freedom budget”, which aimed to deal with the economic problems facing the Black community, it was published by the Randolph Institute in January 1967 as “A Freedom Budget for All Americans”. In 1963, Randolph was the head of the March on Washington, which was organized by Bayard Rustin, at which Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Watch Randolph’s Speech at the March on Washington:
July 10 is Mary McLeod Bethune’s birthday! Mary McLeod Bethune was an American educator, philanthropist, humanitarian, womanist, and civil rights activist. Bethune founded the National Council for Negro Women in 1935 and served as president or leader for numerous African American women’s organizations. She was appointed as a national adviser to president Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom she worked with to create the Federal Council on Negro Affairs. Bethune was the sole African American woman officially a part of the US delegation that created the United Nations charter. She was known as “The First Lady of The Struggle” because of her commitment to improving the lives of Black Americans.
Mary McLeod Bethune is well known for starting a private school for Black students in Daytona Beach, Florida; it later continued to develop as Bethune-Cookman University. In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked officials in Washington D.C., to replace a statue of a Confederate general who represents Florida in the U.S. Capitol with one of educator Mary McLeod Bethune – three years after the Florida Legislature approved the switch. Read more about this historic update.
Harry T. Moore and Harriet Moore founded the first branch of the NAACP in Brevard County, Florida in 1934. Through their efforts to grow the organization, they advocated for improved housing and education, investigated lynchings, filed lawsuits against barriers to voting, and worked for equal pay for black teachers in segregated public schools.
The activism of Moore was highly controversial in the local white-dominated county. In 1946 both the Moores were fired from their teaching jobs because of their activism. Afterwards, Harry became a full-time employee of the NAACP. The Moores were the targets of a bombing of their home in Mims, Florida on Christmas night 1951. Harry died in an ambulance on the way to a black hospital 30 miles away in Sanford, Florida. Harriet succumbed to her injuries nine days later at the same hospital. The assassination triggered nationwide protests, with rallies, memorials, and other events held following the news of the bombing.
Baseball icon Jackie Robinson held a memorial service drawing approximately 3,000 mourners. The NAACP later held a memorial service, in March 1952, in the Madison Square Garden; their memorial was attended by 15,000 people, where speakers like Langston Hughes had come to give their respects. Read the poem The Ballad of Harry T. Moore by Langston Hughes.
Ella Baker was a civil rights leader and founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. She worked alongside noted civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King Jr. She also mentored many emerging activists such as Rosa Parks and Stokely Carmichael.
Baker criticized professionalized, charismatic leadership; she promoted grassroots organizing, radical democracy, and the importance of self-determination. She is known for her critiques not only of racism within American culture, but also of sexism within the civil rights movement. The protest song Ella’s Song is based on a quote from Baker: “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” Listen to Ella’s Song performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock.